Don’t let the old salts send you topside on mail buoy watch

The carrier's island - goodhugh photo on flickr
The carrier’s island – goodhugh photo on flickr

As I work through the final edits for my upcoming novel The Sailor, I find myself smiling at all the weird, strange, and often crude navy slang and acronyms that were a part of daily life when I served aboard the four acres of sovereign soil better known as an aircraft carrier or a bird farm.

Since this is a family blog (don’t ya think?), I won’t mention the profane slang other than to say you can find it quickly enough in a Google search.

One of the first things you learn on an aircraft carrier is that the navy does not fly choppers. If you call a helicopter a chopper, you’ll probably be placed on mail buoy watch (more on that later) or sent off in search of various kinds of equipment and supplies that don’t exist. The helicopter is a Helo (hee-low).

A liberty port
A liberty port

Going ashore is going on the beach whether it’s a beach, a pier, or liberty (free time) in a foreign port where you might get screwed, blued, and tattooed. (Oops, I forgot this is a family blog.)  Now hear this, if you get back late from liberty you are not AWOL, you are UA. UA = authorized absence, as in, “I was UA” or “Mr. A.J. Squared Away (a sailor with a perfect shave, perfect uniform, etc.) went UA.”

Once you become a member of Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club, called the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club during the WESTPAC (western Pacific) Vietnam War days, your first duties involve listening up, taking a good set of notes, and otherwise learning the rocks and shoals (regulations).  If the chief (chief petty officer) thinks you’re slacking off, otherwise known as skating, and aren’t learning, he’ll either write you up (put you on report) or send you off to the galley to wash the flavor extractors.

If you get written up, you’ll end up shooting pool with the captain, that is, brought before a captain’s mast hearing after which you might variously be sent to the brig, demoted, or served a big chicken dinner (bad conduct discharge).

A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.
A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.

If you’re serving on an aircraft carrier, you’ll soon learn to stay off the flight deck during flight ops unless you are authorized to be there. If you work on the flight deck, the color of your shirt (yellow, green, white, red, blue, purple, brown or black) identifies the job you’re supposed to be doing. Red is, of course, for crash and smash (firefighters). If you want to watch launch and recovery operations, head up to the windows called vulture’s row in the island (AKA superstructure) where the view is perfect.

Old salts will try to fill your head (brain, not the rest room) full of crap (lies, yarns, and obviously erroneous scuttlebutt) that will only result in your being considered as gear adrift or a good candidate for mail buoy watch. “Mail buoy watch” is mandated by lifers (old salts) when the weather is poor.

During bad weather, somebody (you) is dressed up in foul weather gear and sent topside (AKA, a weather deck) with a hook. Your job will be to watch for the mail buoy, that is to say, the place where the ship’s mail will be waiting because either the COD (the mail plane) or some mythical mail ship can’t deliver the mail in a storm.

Before you head out to snag the mail, your uniform of the day (helmet, life jacket, etc.) will be critiqued by those in the know. Pictures will be taken and then you’ll be on your own in the rain until you realize you’re a victim of the kind of good-natured hazing that will give a guy a lot of grief, a bad cold, and a trip to sickbay for some Corpsman Candy (an ineffective cough drop).

It’s always best to at least look like you know what you’re doing, that is to say staying 4.0 (pronounced four-oh) and squared away during your tour of duty on the big gray ship (BGS). Who knows you might stop saying FTN (you can figure out what that means) and ship over (reenlist). On the other hand, if you’re a bent shitcan, then you’re too hopeless to even be in the navy.

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9 thoughts on “Don’t let the old salts send you topside on mail buoy watch

  1. I guess I’m a confirmed landlubber–you mentioned “mail buoys,” and my first thought was, “there are femail buoys?” Sorry. I’m giddy today, and I have no control over my thoughts! Love the photos you’ve been posting of all the big ships.

      1. So much could be made of “femail buoys.” I’ll have to get my 15 year old to work on that.

  2. This brings back memories as I made a cruise on that Gray Lady … I know of someone, not myself, who was sent to get some relative bearing grease…. The most fun was the paybacks.
    Is that a photo of Subic Bay?

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